Zimbabwe’s visit to Pakistan: Dawn of a new era?

Published: April 18, 2015
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Sean Williams took the wickets of Umar Akmal (R) and Shahid Afridi as Zimbabwe restricted Pakistan to 7 for 235 off 50 overs. PHOTO: AFP

Daarhion ne phir marwa diya hai

(The beards [bearded men] have gotten us into trouble again)

These were the first words I heard on a dreary school morning as news of the attackon the touring Sri Lankan team made the headlines.

A desolate shroud enveloped Zinda Dilan-e-Lahore as news broke that the bus carrying the touring Sri Lankan cricket team was fired at by a coterie of Kalashnikov toting ‘na maloom afraad’ in broad daylight.

The nearby elite would hear of such incidents up in the agencies next to the Afghan border and seldom, the Taliban types would make it as far as Peshawar, but a gun massacre somewhere as central as the Liberty Square in Lahore had a grim and deafening impact which left a bitter taste that the average Pakistani sensibility was becoming all too accustomed to.

Mayhem ensued, an investigation started, theories were spun and naturally fingers were pointed to the other side of the Wagha border as being a part of their bigger plan to monopolise world cricket. It sounds absurd, but they may well have pulled it off.

What followed though was the calamitous collapse of Pakistani cricket. Haroon Lograt, the then International Cricket Council (ICC) chief led the charge of condemnations as Senator Rehman Malik and his men down at the R-Block in the Pakistan Secretariat at the Ministry of Interior haplessly tried to trace down the perpetrators of this attack.

New Zealand and Bangladesh pulled out of their upcoming series in Pakistan. Insurance costs for series in the region shot up. The land of the pure was stripped of her World Cup hosting rights. Certain players found themselves in a spot of bother over the security situation at the Indian Premier League (IPL) following this incident and as would soon became clear, no international team would be visiting our grounds any time soon.

As a nation prone to nervous breakdowns, as Fatima Bhutto very eloquently puts it, cricket was a faintly glimmering lifeline in an otherwise sea of chagrin and chaos, but now the average Pakistani cricket fanatic’s situation was akin to that of a starving addict. He is not only suffering from withdrawal symptoms but he also finds his lips parched with thirst to see one of his express fast bowlers run off to the crisp 22-yard strip at Gaddafi Stadium and bowl at over 150 clicks.

The ever-friendly Arab Gulf was quick to lend a hand (even though that might not remain the case soon) as the UAE offered its facilities to be used as Pakistan’s ‘home turf’. It has been six years that the men in green have played a home game. An entire generation of cricketers has not relished in the feeling of having a zealous home crowd cheer them on.

Pakistan’s most successful captain, Misbahul Haq, has not led his side at home. Saeed Ajmal has not made the odd one go the other way on Pakistani soil and an entire generation of young Pakistanis has been robbed of the ecstasy – that is a packed cricket stadium.

Photo: AFP

As a zealous patriot, I must say with a heavy heart that as a nation we are prone to blaming our problems on others and sermonising whilst we are at it. If it is not RAW, then it is CIA, or worse, the Zionist lobby.

The cricket problem is different though; we cannot blame it on anyone, especially not when 17-year-old fast bowling prodigies are bribed into overstepping the popping crease at Lord’s. It leaves us seething, helpless, and at a loss for words. The frustration leaves us hapless, leaving an otherwise emphatic cricket fan to pause and painfully reflect.

The spot fixing melodrama of 2010 was a punch to the gut as was the IPL omission. Soon enough the post of chairman Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was reduced to a joke. Asif Ali Zardari’s classmate from Petaro and seasoned Punjabi industrialist, Zaka Ashraf, saw himself locked in a vicious legal battle with freedom fighter-turned-journalist-turned-caretaker civil servant, also known as Najam Sethi.

Say what you will, Sethi’s shrewdness proved invaluable in making sure that PCB’s isolation was short lived. In 2011, the hot-blooded Afghan team paid Lahore a visit for a non-international, shortly after which an International XI comprising of mostly retired players played a charity game in Karachi.

Photo: AFP

An ajrak-clad Sanath Jayasuriya vowed to make every effort to bring cricket back to Pakistan but his pleas fell on deaf ears. More recently our A team was matched up against the Kenyan national side which was brave enough to take the flight up to Allama Iqbal International airport.

But these were mere breadsticks before the actual meal; no amount of friendly non-internationals would satiate the Pakistani fan that craved much more. Twice it seemed that the Bangladeshi team would be bold enough to tour but security concerns saw that visit getting bogged down as well.

And then, a tiny sliver shone through. The emergence of the ‘Big three’ in the ICC was not met with much optimism at home of course, but the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had been drawn into agreeing to play five bilateral series with Pakistan in the coming years. With December fast approaching, no tangible progress seems to have been made but a resilient Zimbabwean side has pledged to tour Lahore and Karachi this coming May.

Photo: AFP

Even though reports are preliminary, the possibility of seeing the stands at Gaddafi light up once more as one walks through the cobweb-laden corridor leading up to the Fazal Mahmood enclosure has breathed new life into the PCB’s efforts.

In his recent visit to Islamabad, freshly elected Sri Lankan president, Maithripela Srisana, assured Nawaz Sharif, an avid cricket fan himself, that the new Sri Lanka team would visit Pakistan very soon. Like a rhythmic Punjabi dhol (drum) beat that steadily gathers momentum, the revival is well and truly on its way. Ireland and Kenya have expressed interest and bigger and better things are only a matter of time.

Photo: AFP

Azhar Ali’s freshly inducted ‘boys’ are most certainly cornered but not as tigers, as phoenixes; phoenixes awaiting resurrection from the ashes as they touch down in Dhaka.The Bangladesh series is the calm after the storm, a period for trial and error. Up against a relatively weak side it is perhaps the ideal and only chance for the likes of Sami Islam and Mohammad Rizwan to make a name for themselves. With the A team flying out to the Emerald Island to play against Sri Lanka soon, one can’t help but be reminded of Iqbal’s splendour when he said,

Nahi hai na-umeed Iqbal apni kisht-e-weeraan se

Zara naam ho tau ye matti bari zarkhez hai saaqi”

(But of his barren acres Iqbal shall not despair,

A little rain and harvests will blossom, O Winebearer!)

Zarnaab Adil

Zarnaab Adil

The author is a thoroughbred Lahori and wide-eyed New Yorker pursuing a degree in Public Policy and South Asian Studies at New York University. He tweets as @ChZJanjua (twitter.com/chzjanjua)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Pervez

    One of the top news items these days is about an American teacher working in Pakistan who was shot by militants. I don’t know what possessed that lady to work in Pakistan but it seems foreigners are easily fooled when it comes to Pakistan and Pakistanis.

    The author correctly identifies the problem with Pakistan:


    As a zealous patriot, I must say with a heavy heart that as a nation
    we are prone to blaming our problems on others and sermonising whilst we
    are at it.”

    But then he proceeds to forget it for the rest of the article!

    Pakistan is not safe. We need to stop denying it and we need to stop pretending otherwise. Encouraging foreign teams to visit Pakistan now is very wrong. I know we don’t care about the safety of the foreign players but consider how counter-productive it will be for our cause when they get attacked?Recommend

  • Shatibi

    What a racist beginning to the article? So beardless don’t kill people? Way to stigmatize. God help NYU South Asian Studies.Recommend

  • Zarnaab Adil

    Notice the quotations, it’s a generic statement one would hear being made in our society. Nowhere do I say I agree with it. God help assumption makers.Recommend

  • Zarnaab Adil

    Also, Islam is not a race.Recommend

  • Seedha Sada

    I love Lahore for the city it is but it is unfair that Lahore and Karachi get all the cricket and that too when the stadiums are,more often than not, empty.Even though that it was a domestic tournament,last T20 tournament which took place in Rawalpindi had packed stadium even for the league matches.Its time that PCB starts looking beyond Lahore & Karachi because Pakistan is more than these two cities.Faislabad,Peshawar,Rawalpindi,Islamabad & Quetta should also get opportunities to host local tournaments or international teams.
    P.S please don’t blame the security situation now. Rawalpindi is much much safer then Lahore and for that matter Karachi.Recommend

  • Khalid

    Seriously. Even when International Cricket was taking place in Pakistan every match was being held in Karachi and Lahore and more often than not the stadiums would be completely empty. Personally I think Multan and Gujranwala are the two best stadiums in Pakistan yet no match has taken place there since god knows how long and what about Faisalabad and Rawalpindi? If you are having a series safety is besides the point, why are u not utilizing these other stadiums? Dont understand what the problem is with PCBRecommend

  • Ali Akbar

    A few corrections here. Saeed Ajmal has played in Pakistan. He infact his debut against India at Karachi. This was also the match in which Misbah captained Pakistan for the first time.Recommend

  • Shatibi

    The quotation marks simply show you were quoting someone, nowhere did you problematize or complicate the implications of stereotypes in the statement. And read the recent scholarly literature on Islamophobia to see the conceptual interconnections between racist discourse and Islamophobia (Peter Gottschalk’s recent work will be a good start). But thanks for clarifying that you don’t agree with the statement; that’s good to know but could have been clarified better to avoid misimpression.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/ejazasi Ejaz Asi

    Punjabi industrialist? Nice going.Recommend

  • Seedha Sada

    Absolutely!Multan has got a beautiful stadium.I would also question the logic behind PCB’s headquarters in Lahore.PCB is supposedly a federal institute so it should have its headquarters in Islamabad not in Lahore.As long as this Buddha Mafia don’t get their hands off PCB,I can’t see any change for betterment.All this politics carried out by regional heads like Shakeel Sheikh and co is ruining cricket and guess what no one cares.Social societies in our universities are more professional then our current PCB administration.Recommend